Other than look at the headlines and check Memeorandum to see what themes are developing, I’ve avoided reading any details about the latest Papal smackdown. The headlines are familiar, the pictures of howling mobs of Muslims are by now simply stock photos, and in the end, I notice that no one is actually reading Benedict’s speech from Regensburg — or rather, they’re excerpting the “juicy” parts and leaving the rest. A waste, really.
What is striking (so to speak) about the various reactions to the Pope’s address is the level of naïveté on all sides of this debate. Among both his adversaries — who delight in this purported “blunder” in Benedict’s talk, and his defenders — who lament his indiscretion, there seems to be an assumption that this intelligent, scholarly, and historically informed speech was a mistake, an unintentional gaffe.
Riight…sure it was.
The predictable (and by now exquisitely boring) outrage of the vaunted “Muslim street” is evidence of either (1) their stereotypical hysteria and the over-the-top strategy they employ at the slightest provocation, or (2) further proof of the hyper-vigilant hysterical paranoia that pervades a dysfunctional and homicidal culture. In other words, it’s either the sly application of taqiyya, or it’s mass insanity. Take your pick. Personally, I opt for “crazy like a fox” when these folks start foaming at the mouth and issuing fatwas and burning crosses, for heaven’s sake. What they’re really doing here is softening us up, making the mayhem look like normal behavior.
The MSM pontificating is also boringly predictable. Does any sane person care what The New York Times has to say on this issue? The tropes trotted out by the usual suspects have become so familiar by now that we can recite the jabber right along with these talking/writing heads. They have all the depth and breadth of a Gilligan’s Island episode, and none of these “journalists” ever step out of character, or say anything surprising. Like teenagers who have seen every episode of Gilligan umpteen times, we can recite the MSM litany right along with them — though perhaps with less evident glee than they evince when some event generates orchestrated crises, giving them the opportunity to…to pontificate. In fact, if the ability to pontificate were the only requirement for the job, we’d have been saying “Pope Dan Rather” a long, long time ago.
These first two groups -Muslims and the MSM — can be safely ignored. Neither has anything to say that they haven’t already repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseam. In fact, if the Muslims and their rage disorder didn’t exist, the MSM would have had to invent them just to stay in business. Otherwise, when the Muslims aren’t raging, the MSM is reduced to dreary and dire prophecies about, oh, the economy (bad), the environment (the sky is falling), the poor (mistreated), the entitled (not enough programs), the Republicans (lack of ethics), the oil shortage (greedy Americans), the coming Avian flu epidemic (we’re all going to die), or, scraping the bottom of the barrel, sophistry and ignorant political philosophy by our current crop of “entertainers.” Come to think of it, perhaps the blowhard imams are largely creations of the al-Frankenstein MSM. Certainly the media have made the imam business a growth industry since 9/11.
But what is of real concern is the group of commentators, sincerely distressed, who perceive Benedict’s speech as a “blunder” — one for which he must now abjectly apologize.
Nonsense. So Turkey is reneging on the up-coming Papal visit? They don’t want him in their benighted, bloodied country? Odd, considering that it was a a native-born Turkish terrorist who tried to assassinate John Paul:
On 13 May 1981 John Paul II was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter’s Square to address an audience. Agca was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. Two days after Christmas 1983, John Paul II visited the prison where his would-be assassin was being held. The two spoke privately for 20 minutes. John Paul II said, “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.”
Now maybe there were abject apologies and letters of condolence pouring in from all over the Ummah for this almost-fatal attack on the Pope? Perhaps as he was recuperating from his six hours of surgery, the Turkish ambassador to Italy tip-toed into his room with posies and apologies? If so, the MSM didn’t cover that part of the story.
And don’t you wonder how the story of John Paul’s pardon of his would-be assassin played in Ankarrah? That is, if it even played at all.
The best thing one can do in the current contretemps is to read the whole speech, all the way through to the addendum at the bottom. As you do, take into account its context: Benedict was returning to the scene of his years as a young scholar filled with the excitement of university life. His opening remarks are full of nostalgia for the memories of an earlier, more civil and united academic world, one where theology had at least a minor place in the cosmos of the university. That world has disappeared.
1959 was a time of ferment in theology, and nowhere was that more evident than in Germany. As anyone studying the subject in the U.S. during the sixties and seventies can tell you, not knowing how to read German was a distinct disadvantage for serious graduate work in the field. Whether it was scriptural exegesis or moral theology or ecclesiology, the liberal Germans led the field. Not that there weren’t shining lights in other countries — Yves Congar’s ideas about “the priesthood of the baptized” had their moment — it’s just that the critical mass of original thinking in theology was taking place in Germany.
And that was the milieu in which Benedict — Father Ratzinger — lived and moved and had his being. A scholar of history and theology, he was at home in Regensburg and Bonn, immersed in his teaching and studies. Do you think he ever gave room to dreams about his place in the history of the papacy? Somehow I doubt it. Not then, anyway, when the university was his home.
This man was and is a scholar right down to his marrow. He is a careful thinker steeped in the history of his church and of his world — in his case, the history of Western Europe. He has probably forgotten more about both subjects than you and I will ever learn.
The Papacy is not monolithic. John XXIII was not an intellectual, though he taught for a time at an Italian seminary. Roncalli was a diplomat, and used his offices in Greece and Turkey to save many Jews. Even the French loved Roncalli, the son of sharecroppers. On the other hand, Eugenio Pacelli, his predecessor, came from a long line of Italian aristocrats. As introverted as Roncalli was gregarious, Pius XII had the unenviable task of pulling the Church through the Second World War and beyond. Had they not had their vocation to the priesthood and their respective papal appointments, their paths would never have crossed.
Benedict, of course, is German, and again as different from his predecessor as were Pacelli and Roncalli. But John Paul was Benedict’s friend — to the extent that Pontiffs have “friends” and it is thought that he hoped Ratzinger would succeed him. John Paul knew their deep differences in outlook, but he trusted the process and the person to meet the coming crises. While this speech would never have passed John Paul’s lips, one can surmise that he knew this confrontation was inevitable for whomever followed him.
If you would understand the context of this speech, Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, you would do well to read Ratzinger’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” in order to see the edifice upon which he is building his rôle during the time allotted him in office.
“Deus Caritas Est” — “God is Love” — is a logical predecessor to “Faith and Reason.” The latter is not an encyclical, but I’d wager that it is the prologue to just such a work in the future. Love, the experience of love, is primary. It precedes reason. Love is necessary but for a fully formed faith it is not sufficient. Thus Benedict points out that Logos (whose connotation includes ‘word’ and ‘action’) is the very beginning…of everything. This idea, the opening to John’s gospel (probably written on the island of Patmos) is in keeping with the Christian belief that human beings, being made in God’s image, respond reasonably to what they perceive as God’s action in the world.
To that extent (and to many others), Judaism and Christianity converge. But Benedict’s point is that the Church not only flows from Jewish scripture, but is also inescapably and profoundly Hellenistic in outlook. For better or worse, Paul preached to the Greeks and to the Hellenized Jews, and it was this strand that survived after the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the diaspora not only of Jews, but of the Jerusalem branch of the Church. The Jerusalem church, Paul’s thorn, ceased to exist.
Benedict briefly passes over the Roman contribution to Christian praxis (e.g., Canon Law) in order to dwell more fully on Greek philosophy’s impact on Christian belief. That is his point: Hellenic reason in tandem with Jewish faith created the synthesis that became Christian thought.
Benedict is too thoroughly a historian to pass over the contradictions and tensions that arose from this syncretism. He outlines briefly three strands of “de-Hellenization” that have brought the Church to grief:
This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history — it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.
The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a deHellenization of Christianity — a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.
The three stages Benedict outlines begin in the Reformation in the 16th century, followed by the liberal theology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — the theology of Harnack, its leading expositor, who drew from Pascal and Kant. Benedict says that as a young professor he tried to counter these ideas in his inaugural address at Bonn but one could infer that he didn’t think he was successful. Of this second strand, he says:
…any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be “scientific” would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by “science”, so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.
And the third strand of the Church’s dehellenization? It is this:
In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary enculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that enculturation, in order to enculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.
What does Benedict mean here? In my opinion, he is referring to the necessity to refrain from incorporating animism, ancestor worship, or other tribal beliefs and customs that confront the Church in Africa and the Far East. But who knows? For certain, he will let us know in subsequent speeches and encyclicals.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re wondering where the meat is here. Where is the part of his address that has left the Ummah with a virulent case of the violent vapors? Why are they shredding this speech with their teeth, rage dripping from their tongues?
Benedict’s confrontation with Islam — which he sets up as a foil to explain the notion of reason vis a vis faith — is his reference to a passage by Professor Theodore Khoury in which he sets down a dialogue from 1391, during one of the sieges of Constantinople by the Muslims, between the Emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, and a Persian Muslim. Bear in mind Benedict’s motive: he is going to clarify the necessity for reason, and to do so he chooses this dialogue as his jumping off point. It is a time-honored rhetorical device he employs here:
It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between — as they were called — three “Laws” or “rules of life”: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point — itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole — which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason”, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.
In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H — controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably (F×
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
So, according to Benedict, the Emperor was startlingly brusque when he expounds on “on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence.”
1391. Over six hundred years ago. That is Benedict’s point. Except for Islam, the world’s religions have changed and evolved. Islam, still a tribal, ahistorical and literal belief system based on what one does, has not changed. And it has foresworn reason as one of its attributes. Belief is not discussed, it is practiced in minute detail. You have only to look in on the questions the average Muslim has about the minutiae of daily life to understand the tragic and unanswered demand for security. At the whim of a capricious Allah, and an even more capricious desert environment, what recourse does a Muslim have but to attend to the details? And what room is there for a maturing of moral reasoning in this system?
Unfortunately for Islam, it simply conquered, subdued, and killed or converted those in its path. It never absorbed from the surrounding culture. Such absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, no?
But then who could tell a caliph that and live to say anything else?
And how can the world continue in the face of a murderously angry, envious and resentful culture like Islam, frozen as it is in 7th century thinking?
The Holy Jihad will make Christians pay dearly for Benedict’s presentation. Bringing that 600 year old conversation to the light will cause the deaths of many.
Does that mean we should keep silence? No! Jihadists are killing Christians and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and animists. Then the Sunnis will start killing the Shi’ites and vice versa. Keeping quiet will protect no one.
No, Benedict didn’t “blunder.” He said what he meant and he meant what he said.
Let the fatwas begin.